Looking Back to See the Path Ahead

Anders Cahill
Dec 31, 2018 · 6 min read
photo by Jon Tyson

“The future came and went in the mildly discouraging way that futures do.”

― Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Have you ever asked yourself, “where did that year go?”

Minutes and hours and days and weeks and months all piling together, only to suddenly slip through your hands like sand.

Have you’ve ever felt that?

We live in a culture deeply rooted in the idea of doing as the best way of being. And there’s wisdom in those roots. We have bodies that move and minds that solve, and if we don’t use those skills, we are sure to languish.

But we are constantly inundated by messages urging us ever onwards. To make more things. To buy more things. To post more things on social media. So much to read and to watch and to listen to.

I don’t know about you, but for me, sometimes it makes me feel like I’m drowning. I mean, how could I ever do it all? The answer is I can’t, and some part of me is left with a feeling of inadequacy at that fact. Then the end of the year comes around, and all of that messaging crystallizes into the ever-dreamed, ever-dreaded new year’s resolution.

The new year’s resolution is the ultimate emblem of our doer culture. Do more. Do better. Do it all at once.

Sweet Christmas, talk about a recipe for failure! There are some who have the discipline, the disposition, and the depth of wisdom to successfully implement a resolution. If you’re striving to count yourself among them, there are plenty of resources just a web search away.

But whether you’re an enthusiastic new year’s resolver or more of a ‘I’ve tried a thousand times before, so why even bother?’ I’d like to offer an alternative practice this year:

Instead of (or in addition to) setting a new year’s resolution, try a practicing a new year’s reflection.

If we are always doing, then we have no time for remembering. If we have no time for remembering, then we have no sense of the passage of time. Memory is our gateway to the past. And it is also the only way we have any means of authoring our future. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat, always falling into the same grooves without deciding for ourselves if that’s where we want to be.

The year to come will be filled with endless opportunities for doing. I promise you that. But if you don’t take the time to reflect and remember, I also promise you that when the end of next year comes, you’re going to ask yourself the same question you did the last time around: where did that year go?

“Four days will quickly steep themselves in nights; Four nights will quickly dream away the time.”

― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

So here’s my offering to you, as we round the corner on 2018 and into 2019: Take time to reflect on the year that you just lived. Every day for 365 days you woke with your heart still beating, your breath still breathing, your mind still thinking.

What do those days have to teach you about the life you still have left to live?

photo by Marc Olivier Jodoin

If you’re not sure where to start, here are the reflections and rememberings from the past year my wife and I will be exploring:

Joyful Victories — as we’ve established, you did a lot this past year :-) Have you taken the time to savor those accomplishments? To celebrate them? If not, now’s the time

Beautiful Memories — something doesn’t have to be an accomplishment to be meaningful. Often, our most meaningful memories are those where we are simply alive and in the world. Hearing your child speak her first word. Sitting on the beach, staring up at the stars. Walking in the woods, holding hands with the person you love. Take the time to mark moments like these. You may be surprised at how many you find hiding in the year you just lived.

Powerful Lessons — it’s tempting to look back and see all of the things we didn’t do well or that didn’t happen. But those moments are not much use if you don’t learn anything from them! Don’t let your hard-wired negativity bias overshadow the opportunity to grow. Take the time to extract key lessons from your year that you can work to apply in the next one.

People Worth Thanking — people helped you this year. People you love. People you like. People you dislike. Even people you’ve never met (do you know the person who built the phone you’re reading this on? or who harvested those wonderful dark roast coffee beans you enjoyed this morning?). Take some time to think about some of them. What did they offer you? What did they teach you? What would you say to them if you could?

Powerful Bonus ActivitySay it to them :-)

Questions Left Unanswered — after all you’ve done and learned and discovered this year, what are you wondering about? Maybe there’s a lesson hidden in a past event that you can’t quite understand yet. Maybe some issue is still lingering, unresolved. Maybe you’re still striving for more clarity and purpose. Or maybe you just want to know one thing you can change in the year to come that will have a meaningful impact in your life and the lives of those around you.

New Doors Opening — now, with all these blessings and learnings and questions in view, cast your eye ahead. What potential opportunities are waiting for you, maybe even hiding in plain sight until this moment? Where would you like to take the lessons you’ve learned and apply them in your life? What do you want to bring into being that is uniquely yours, that can add real value to the world?

photo by Pepe Reyes

If you take me up on this offer, I hope it is of some use to you. If so, remember that you can take time with questions like these on any given day. On your birthday. On the summer solstice. Once a week. Whatever. The end of our modern calendar year is a useful symbolic marker, but it’s certainly not the only one!

Until the next time, wishing you all the wonder, joy, and meaning you can make.

photo by John Baker

Originally published at mindfulcreative.coach on December 31, 2018.


Did this post speak to you? If so, help me build an audience by clapping as many times as you like (you can clap up to 50 times for a post & more claps = more visibility on Medium) and spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and colleagues on social media.

< — click over here (web) or the button down below (mobile) to clap & share!

Want wisdom and reflections straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Wonder Dome newsletter:

gorgeous photo by Kirstina Makeva
Anders Cahill

Written by

Creativity. Mindfulness. Leadership. // mindfulcreative.coach // anderscahillbooks.com // anderscahill.bandcamp.com

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade